August 2007
The Coming Revolution in Scholarly Communications & Cyberinfrastructure
Peter Suber, Earlham College

  1. Big publishers are still getting bigger: merging with one another (most recently, Wiley and Blackwell), acquiring smaller publishers, and acquiring journals. Market consolidation is growing, monopoly power is growing, and bargaining power by subscribers is declining. This interests government anti-trust officials --who in the UK, for example, would already have acted if the OA movement hadn't give them a reason to watch and wait. It gives the players representing research rather than for-profit publishing (universities, libraries, funders, and governments) additional incentives to work for OA. It also gives the smaller, non-profit publishers, excluded from big deals and competing for limited subscription funds against the market titans, reasons to consider the big publishers more threatening than OA and reasons to consider OA a survival strategy.
  2. More for-profit companies are offering services that provide OA or add value to OA literature: repository services, search engines, archiving software, journal management software, indexing or citation tracking services, publishing platforms, print preservation. These services create or enhance OA literature, fill the cracks left by other services, create a market for OA add-ons, and show another set of business judgments that OA is on the rise. If you think, as I do, that one promising future for non-OA publishers is to shift from priced access to priced services for adding value to OA literature, then these projects can help opponents become proponents.
  3. More mainstream, non-academic search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft are indexing OA repositories and journals. This makes OA content easy to find for users unacquainted with more specialized tools. This in turn helps persuade even more publishing scholars that OA really does increase visibility and retrievability. Hence, it helps correct a particularly common and harmful misunderstanding among authors: that work on deposit in an institutional repository is only visible to people who visit that particular repository and run a local search.
  4. While OA journals and repositories continue to multiply, other vehicles for delivering OA are finding more and more serious scholarly applications: blogs, wikis, ebooks, podcasts, RSS feeds, and P2P networks. This is more than a geeky desire to play with cool new tools. It's a desire to find ways to bypass barriers to communication, collaboration, and sharing. Serious researchers are discovering that these tools are actually useful, not just cool, and are taking advantage of them. Like cell phones, wifi, and the Internet itself before them, these tools are overcoming the stigma of being trendy and moving from the periphery to the mainstream.

    The direct benefit is that all these tools presuppose OA. Their widespread use enlarges the volume of OA research communication and spreads the conviction that research benefits from both the speed and the reach of OA. The indirect benefit is that they foster disintermediation (and hence reduce costs and delays) without sacrificing peer-mediated forms of quality control. Since the rise of peer-reviewed journals in the 17th century, most publicly disseminated works of scholarship have been vetted and distributed by publishers. Letters and lectures were exceptions. Today, the categories of exceptions, the volume of research-reporting they represent, and their integration into the workflow of ordinary research, are all growing.

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Reference this article
Suber, P. "Trends Favoring Open Access," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 3, Number 3, August 2007. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2007/08/trends-favoring-open-access/

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